KHARKIV: Officials in a Ukrainian city responded in kind on Wednesday after authorities in Italy dangled a large portrait of Ukraine’s jailed former leader Yulia Tymoshenko outside Rome’s city hall.
Officials in the eastern city of Kharkiv hung a house-sized banner on the stone facade of the city legislature, depicting Italian ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi smiling out from behind superimposed prison bars.
“This is a postcard for the mayor’s office in Rome,” said Yury Sidorenko, a spokesman for the city legislature in Kharkiv, where Tymoshenko is serving her seven-year sentence for abuse of power.
The Berlusconi banner included text saying: “Hands off Berlusconi!” and “Support not only the Ukrainian but also your own ex-premier!” Berlusconi’s tenure as prime minister was rocked by sex and other scandals. Last month, he was sentenced to four years in jail - quickly reduced to one under an amnesty law - and banned from holding public office for five years.
He remains free pending an appeal.
“It’s better for everyone to look after their own country and not put pressure on others,” Sidorenko said.
On Monday, Rome’s city hall prominently displayed the Tymoshenko portrait in a bid to support the former Orange Revolution leader who says her jailing is a political vendetta engineered by her arch-foe, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
“It will stay up until the situation changes for the better,” a spokeswoman for the city hall in Rome said.
Sidorenko said it was the city’s mayor Gennady Kernes who came up with a response to the Italian capital.
“He carefully looked at what was happening in Rome yesterday, heard the call by the mayor of Rome on mayors of other cities to support political prisoners and thus decided to support the Italian political prisoner, ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi.” “We’ve decided to call on our colleagues from the Rome city hall to be consistent and support not only the Ukrainian ex-premier but their own ex-premier,” he said.
The mayor’s idea received support from local lawmakers and residents who helped publish the banner, Sidorenko added.
Ukrainian officials promised to take their banner down on Thursday but cautioned their Italian counterparts against meddling in another country’s domestic affairs.